The Way Kids Are
Who are these kids of the `90s? How do they differ from children of other generations? ‘The Way Kids Are’ is a regular series of columns in which we invite readers to help us understand kids. Each column will begin by describing a recent experience with a child, followed by an analysis that will examine what this teaches us about children today. Submissions can be made by contacting West Coast editor Virginia Robertson by phone: 213-966-4500, fax: 213-852-0223 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The obsession began when Alexandra was 26 months old. After watching a rented copy of Walt Disney’s The Aristocats, she became fixated on Marie-the only daughter of the cat Duchess. ‘Marie,’ Alex would gush, ‘is the white kitten with the blue eyes and the pink collar and the pink bow. She’s my favorite.’
‘Favorite’ was not a new concept. Alex had had several prior favorites, including Piglet, Barney and Elmo. Another favorite would replace Marie within months. We were quite sure of it.
What we didn’t know was that Alex’s play pattern was changing-she was moving out of the gender-neutral toddler stage into the gender-specific little girl stage. This stage consisted of this basic equation: pink + pretty + hair play + sparkly + dress-up + playing mommy (nurturing something) = the little girl play pattern (LGPP). Boy, did we underestimate the power of the LGPP and, along with it, the power of Marie.
When my little girl’s love affair with the tiny feline began, The Aristocats ‘brand’ barely had a presence at The Disney Store. We bought what they had at the time-a plush Marie and a set of rubber bath toys.
From the get-go, Alex and the plush Marie were inseparable. Alex smoothed her fur, brushed her upswept ponytail, fed her and walked her on a pretend leash. When Alex went to sleep, Marie went to sleep. When Alex ate, Marie ate. When Alex went to school, Marie went to school. And she accompanied us on every visit-leaving her behind was completely unimaginable, so we frequently had to trek several miles to retrieve her.
A few months before she turned three, Alex announced that she would be Marie for Halloween, and off I went to find a white kitty costume, although I was surprised that the Marie obsession hadn’t yet been replaced by a new character. Unable to find a costume, I decided to bite the bullet and have a costume made. Three weeks and US$70 later, the Marie costume arrived, and it was spectacular.
Alex had been lobbying for a ‘real’ Marie for several months, but within weeks of that Halloween, the negotiations intensified. It was almost as if she was secretly reading a book on creative visualization. ‘We’re gonna get a real kitty,’ she would tell everyone. ‘A white kitty with blue eyes and a pink collar and a pink bow and her name is gonna be Marie,’ she proclaimed with a knowing smile.
To our surprise, another year had passed and the LGPP was still in full swing. Pink dresses comprised 95 percent of Alex’s wardrobe. Baby dolls abounded. Princess dress-up clothes filled half the closet. And for all intents and purposes, Ariel had taken complete possession of Alex’s mind and body.
Has Marie finally been dethroned?
Not according to a familiar white kitty with a pink collar and a pink bow meowing ‘trick or treat’ for the second time last Halloween, and now lobbying more eloquently than ever for a real, Marie-like kitty. I finally surrendered and the search for a white kitten ensued. By Alex’s fourth birthday, we still hadn’t found Marie. Finally, after calling a classified ad for a white cat, we found a pure white Turkish Angora female with bright blue eyes. I convinced Alex to nix the bow idea, but we did manage to find a hot pink collar with sparkly rhinestones.
So, in the context of the LGPP, how do I explain the incredible staying power of Marie? In a nutshell, it is not about being pretty or pink or princess-related or sparkly. Rather, it is Alex’s intense, innate desire to nurture, to play mommy to a living thing she can call her own. Baby brothers and sisters belong to everyone in a family, but Marie is Alex’s cat, and that’s been the focus of her fantasy ever since she saw the film.
Toy Fair after Toy Fair, I assumed that all the elements of the LGPP shared equal weight, and were equally as nauseating. Let’s face it-anyone who’s toured the major showrooms has seen enough pink, glitter, kitties, puppies, hair play, baby this and baby that to last five lifetimes. So how did my house become one of those showrooms? Easy. I had a little girl-the virtual poster child for the LGPP-who, more than anything else in the world, loves to play mommy. But it wasn’t until we got the ‘real’ Marie that I understood the supreme importance of the nurturing factor in the LGPP equation.
Now, if only I could get her to clean Marie’s litterbox. After all, it is her cat.
Debbi Petrasek, formerly of Viacom Consumer Products, has joined Viacom Productions to help develop TV series with solid merchandising elements.